Salvador Dalì was a collaborative artist, working with assistants, artisans, craftsmen and in partnership with everyone from the likes of Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Alfred Hitchcock and Elsa Schiaparelli. Very happy to delegate aspects of production to assistants; his methodology influenced all the leading artists of the 20th and 21st centuries - as will be seen in this article.
Dalì was from the same generation as Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. For Dalì, and his contemporaries it was totally acceptable to work with assistants and to make use of objects not physically crafted by themselves in their sculptural creations. One such example of this would be Dalì’s use of the baguette loaf in his 1933 masterpiece, 'Buste de Femme Retrospectif' , or indeed Dalì’s most famous sculpture, ‘The Lobster Telephone’ of 1936 in which both of the constituent parts were ready made items which he found and assembled one on top of the other.
What counted was the idea, the artistic vision, not the artist’s own ability to manufacture all the constituent elements of an artwork. Another most notable example, of course, is Picasso’s ingenious ‘ Bull's Head’ of 1942 a sculpture made from a bicycle saddle and handlebars. Such artists made no attempt to disguise the fact the constituent parts of their creations were made by the hands of others.
From the artist using found, ready-made objects in their artworks, the next logical step is for the artist to have their visions realized by artisans working under their direction and guidance. Here we enter into a new working methodology; one with which Salvador Dalì broke new ground and paved the way for subsequent generations of artists from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons through to Damien Hirst.
Andy Warhol and Dalì’s Legacy
Andy Warhol’s Factory between 1962 and 1984 has been likened to a Renaissance Master’s studio, pithily described as “an assembly line of art workers” by the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. They variously assisted Warhol’s execution of ideas for works, or did so alone with - and sometimes without - his express directions or authority. The absence of clear documentation defining the roles of Warhol’s art workers in the creative process during the Factory decades has, recently been a cause of disputes over the authenticity of many of his works. However, his artworks continue to be traded for increasingly record-breaking prices worldwide.
In a 2009 online article about Andy Warhol, Felix Salmon opined ‘by the mid-1970s Warhol no longer had any sustained involvement in the mass production of his paintings’ . Such a viewpoint was reinforced by Bob Colacello in his Warhol tome ‘Holy Terror’ . Colacello goes as far as quoting Warhol’s longtime printer Rupert Smith as saying “We had so much work that even Augusto [the security man] was doing the painting. We were so busy, Andy and I did everything over the phone. We called it “art by telephone.”
Jeff Koons meets Salvador Dalì
Jeff Koons has commented many times on how Salvador Dalì was an early hero. Koons became familiar with Dalì’s artworks at a very early age. The first art book given to Koons by his parents - which he studied as a youngster - was an illustrated Salvador Dalì book. Later on while at art school, Koons successfully tracked down Salvador Dalí - during the Spanish maestro’s residency at the St. Regis hotel in New York. From his native Pennsylvania, Koons wrote a letter to Dalí and, much to his surprise, was summoned to the St. Regis. Dalí met him in the lobby, dressed in furs and carrying a silver-capped cane, and took him to see his latest gallery show. Thus Koons finally got to meet with his hero. Today Koons points to Dalí’s effective meshing of personal iconography with mass-culture iconography as providing a model for his own work.
“His lobster telephone is one of my favorite works,” Koons says. “Everything about it seems like a dislocated image. But, in fact, a lobster is a crustacean, and in times past, we would use shells to communicate—so it’s not really so dislocated, after all. I have a postcard of the lobster telephone in my bedroom, so I look at it daily, and I never get tired of it.” (Art News February 2005)
Dali was to be a clear influence on Koons’ approach to imagery and visual language. He was also important in terms of Koons’ production methods. The influence of Salvador Dalì on Koons’ working methodology is very evident in his use of assistants and a large studio system. In May 2013 Jeff Koons created his celebrated “Antiquity” series of paintings. For these artworks a complicated, almost factory-like, production process was employed whereby the canvasses were stippled in sections and then hand-painted. Indeed to realize his visions, Koons employs no less than 118 people at his studio: 64 in the painting department, 44 in the sculpture department and 10 in the digital department. Koons is a natural successor to the likes of Warhol and Dalì.
Damien Hirst, The Enfant Terrible…………with a Large Studio!
Damien Hirst established an “assembly line of art workers” to produce large numbers of works, including especially his famous ‘Spot Paintings’. Hirst is even quoted admitting to personally making only five ‘Spot Paintings’ because "I couldn't be arsed doing it … the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel, she's brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel." The ‘Rachel’ referred to by Damien Hirst is Rachel Howard (b. 1969) who worked for many years as a Hirst studio assistant before becoming a successful independent artist in her own right.
Production of the most famous artworks by Damien Hirst’s - Drip Paintings, Spot Paintings, Butterfly Paintings - represent a triumph and an endorsement, of the studio system that was first championed by Salvador Dalì. In January 2012 a worldwide exhibition of Spot Paintings opened at all 11 Gagosian galleries around the globe, including two in London. Hirst has ‘produced’ almost 1,500 Spot Paintings and currently has a team of assistants working on one with a million spots that will take over nine years to complete.
Operating more like a company director than a traditional artist, Damien Hirst likens himself to an architect running a practice: ‘I’ve started referring to myself as “we” – “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we do that?” – which means I sit in a chair and watch, while they do the work! I employ about 100 people – 40 on spot paintings, 40 on butterflies, 40 short-termers. It’s too many; it feels more comfortable at about 60. (‘Time Out Magazine’ Damien Hirst Interview, Monday 20.11.2006)
Just like Salvador Dalì, Damien Hirst sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, and as the progenitor of the idea, he is the artist. It is not necessary here to list, chapter and verse, every artist whose working practice involves, and indeed is dependent upon the involvement of studio assistants and artisans. However, for the likes of Salvador Dalì, Andy
Warhol, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, such an approach carries many advantages in terms of efficiency and productivity.
THE SURREALIST IDEA
The late A. Reynolds Morse, founding-president of The Salvador Dalì Museum in Florida wrote that ‘[Dalì] emphasized over and over that it was the idea – the surrealist idea of seeing something new especially in extraneous objects, which made his three dimensional forms unique. His objects, however produced, by whom and in what quantities are clear-cut proof that ideas are more important in art than craftsmanship’ (In Dimensions of Surrealism).
For Salvador Dalì what mattered was the realization of his idea, his vision. This approach was completely of its time. Centuries earlier an artist, such as Michelangelo, zealously upheld a reputation as one who protected his creations from the input of assistants - even to the extent of claiming to have completed the Sistine Chapel ceiling singlehandedly (when in actual fact there were assistants working and painting alongside him). Such a mentality was an anachronism by the time of Dali, Picasso, Warhol, Koons and Hirst.
SCULPTURE, MAGRITTE AND THE CONCEPT OF THE ‘IDEA’
A sculpture by Rene Magritte (another Surrealist Master, and one of Dalì’s contemporaries) was sold by Christie’s in London on February 6 th 2013 for the very handsome price of £1.7million GBP ($ 2.7million US$). Entitled La Folie Des Grandeurs (Megalomania) this artwork was originally conceived by Magritte as a two dimensional oil painting, in 1949. The sculptural version of La Folie Des Grandeurs was not cast until 1967. Just like Salvador Dalì, Magritte worked principally in two (not three) dimensions . In the Christie’s auction catalogue, Magritte is quoted as telling his friend and dealer Alexandre Iolas that ‘he was only interested in taking ideas from his paintings and presenting them in the round’ . Rene Magritte’s involvement and interest in the sculptural process was extremely limited. The transformation of the two dimensional artistic idea into a three dimensional bronze was carried out by artisans in a sculpture foundry – not, of course, by the artist himself. La Folie Des Grandeurs was cast into bronze some 18 years after Magritte had painted the image. Nevertheless this is a Magritte sculpture because it successfully reflects the artist’s wishes and realizes his artistic vision - hence the sculpture carries Magritte’s signature . The idea was conceived by the artist.
DALÌ & THE THIRD DIMENSION
Artists put their name to objects and artworks only when they feel satisfied that their idea and artistic vision has been achieved. Salvador Dalì expressly desired for some of his drawings, watercolours and gouaches to be realized as sculptural forms - that is, transformed from two dimensional into three dimensional images. Dalì also modeled statues in wax and plaster and many of these were subsequently cast into bronze at the artist’s behest. However, in both cases Salvador Dalì did not actually work in a foundry casting them into bronze. All of the finished bronze sculptures that carry the authorized Salvador Dalì name, were approved by Dalì.